In 1989, anxieties were running high among solicitors amid a struggling economy
No one, surely, can doubt that the next few weeks will see a revolution not only in the pro bo way lawyers provide services to their clients but also in how they attract those clients in the first place. Despite all the difficulties which confront solicitors’ firms in the modern age, many opportunities exist for building up a profitable business. What is more, social and political change seems sure to create new possibilities which were undreamed of not so long ago.
There are already plenty of straws in the wind. It was recently announced, for instance, that the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, one of the leading teachers’ unions, has set up a nationwide network of 43 law firms offering free legal advice and representation to members. A number of the country’s best known provincial firms are on the list. The brave new world ushered in by the Education (Reform) Act 1988 seems set to present many new problems which the chosen firms will have to help to solve. For instance, financial constraints may force some schools to reorganise their staffing. The jobs of highly skilled (and correspondingly highly paid) teachers may be put at risk. The teachers will need expert advice – and so too, for that matter, will the schools’ governing bodies themselves.
In a very different sphere, readers will recall having read in ‘Inter Alia’ recently that a firm based primarily in Manchester has just opened a new branch office in the entrance hall/lounge of a Cambridge hospital. The franchise arrangement was effected on behalf of the NHS by the British Airports Authority and the lawyers hope to offer a full range of legal services to the hospital’s staff and visitors, as well as patients.
Privatisation, in its various forms, could become a fertile source of work. One example is the privatisation of the legal departments of health authorities. In some cases where privatisation is planned, the in-house lawyers may seek to set up on their own, but many will opt for some form of association or merger with an existing outside practice.
Talk of the approach of 1992 can be yawn-inducing, but it is nonetheless clear that the single European market will offer further scope for practice development. The first European Economic Interest Grouping involving a group of lawyers from member states of the European Community has already been set up; a prominent member is a firm principally based, again, in Manchester.
Many solicitors, like a large number of their clients, are at present anxious about the state of the economy. The high interest rates prevailing at the moment are bad news for an increasing number of solicitors’ practices which run a substantial overdraft facility, as they are for any business. To gaze in to the future where the British economy is concerned is apt to be a mistake, but at the moment recession appears to be at least as likely as an economic ‘soft landing’. If one couples the general uncertainties with the worries about legal aid and domestic conveyancing, one is tempted to despair.
Better by far, though, to think positive. The relaxation of professional restrictive practices which has occurred in the 1980s provides lawyers with every incentive to show enterprise. For those members of the profession who have imagination, initiative and business acumen, the long term future ought still to be bright.